Tuesday, March 8, 2016

What do high quality PowerPoint slides look like?

It might be easier to ask first, what do low quality PowerPoint slides look like?

You've probably seen hundreds of these over the years: too many words, "death by bullets," not enough visual support, overly complex diagrams, boring or irrelevant backgrounds, etc.

Think for a moment about the last time you saw really great PowerPoint slides. They probably:

  • had few words
  • had fewer bullets
  • used vivid, relevant pictures/visual support
  • used simplified, effective diagrams/charts
  • reflected the presenter's personality

When I teach presentation skills workshops, I encourage participants to build slides without using stock PowerPoint templates; instead, work from the "blank" template and design each slide without any bullets. This feels uncomfortable for some people at first, but I encourage folks to push through and start playing around with text boxes and images. What universally happens is that each participant's creativity begins to take over - no one's slides look like anyone else's, but they are instantly more compelling.

The purpose of your slides is to support you, the presenter. They should not be able to stand alone (though your handout should), and they should not distract the audience's attention away from you as the presenter. Most of the tips and tricks that follow keep your audience focused on you, not devoting precious brainpower to interpreting your slides or letting that brain wander away on unrelated tangents.

With that in mind, here are my favorite tips and tricks for kick ass presentations:

Keep your font at least as big as 28 point and, ideally, 32 point at a minimum. If your audience is straining to read your words, you've lost their focus on your content. (Besides, larger fonts make cramming too much onto one slide much harder.)

Choose sans serif fonts for better readability. Serif fonts make your audience subconsciously work harder to read your projected words. Every scrap of audience brainpower is precious and should be focused on you and your message!

Make sure there's contrast between your font color and background color, either light font/dark background or vice versa - but please don't use the canned yellow font/blue background from vintage 1990's PowerPoint. There's no surer way to make your presentation look old and dated.

One point per slide...most of the time. Exceptions include overview/agenda slides or slides where you are connecting several ideas together - but be judicious with these.

Keep backgrounds simple. None of those stock PowerPoint slide backgrounds are worth your time; in fact, any repeating backgrounds or info on slides (including your institution's branding) is a distraction to your audience. Remember, one point per slide.

Optimize your visual support with PowerPoint tools. Let's face it, those super-cool images you downloaded from Google are probably not a perfect fit for your objectives or your presentation's aesthetic. Use cropping, remove background, and/or adjust the contrast/coloring to make images truly pop on the slide. ("Remove background" can admittedly be a bit time-consuming, but it is the best way to make your images look like they organically belong on your slide - instead of looking like you just pasted it in from a web search engine. Try it!)

Cartoons, pictures, etc must be relevant to your content. Otherwise, they will distract your audience from your content - and once you've lost your audience's attention, getting it back will be one mighty uphill battle.

Finally, this outstanding 10-minute video summarizes many of these points and, simultaneously, provides an excellent example of what phenomenal PowerPoint slides look like.

Ditch those boring, over-bulleted, word-heavy slides and inject your personality and energy into your presentations with short bullet-free phrases accompanied by striking visuals. Your audience will not only thank you, they may actually walk away learning something as well.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Meaningful goals & objectives should drive every presentation

The idea of incorporating goals and objectives into presentations has percolated fairly deeply into medical teaching tradition. Unfortunately, these goals and objectives are often superficial and meaningless, especially when they are not tied meaningfully to the presentation's content. Frequently in presentations, it's hard to tell the difference between stated goals and objectives, even though they should be quite distinct and serve different purposes.

Before I provide some examples, let's review for a moment what the purpose of educational objectives are:

  • Educational objectives describe the skills learners should possess after you finish your presentation.
  • Educational objectives also serve as the foundation of evaluating your presentation; you measure the success of your presentation based on how well your learners met your objectives.

High quality objectives are, therefore, precise and measurable. Objectives are not the same as goals; goals can be as pie-in-the-sky and impossible to measure as you like! Goals provide the emotional power to your presentation; typically, you won't share them with your audience, but they are the fuel for your presentation.

Here's an example. I gave an hour-long presentation on asthma to our residents recently, and the objectives were:
  1. Classify asthma severity using the EPR-3 guidelines.
  2. Calculate a peak flow %.
  3. Design appropriate treatment plans for your patients with asthma.
My unspoken goal was:
  • Train residents to recognize under-treated or undiagnosed asthma so affected patients don't suffer unnecessarily.

It would be very difficult to quantitatively measure the success of my goal; I would need to know, somehow, which cases of undiagnosed asthma they missed along with the ones they caught. That's completely unrealistic, which is okay - the goal provided me with the passion and energy I needed to get my learners excited and interested in this topic. Your learners can tell when you are not emotionally invested in the material you're teaching, and they won't learn as well without your enthusiasm.

On the other hand, measuring my objectives was easy, and I was able to do so by the end of my presentation. I observed all of our residents who were present work through clinical scenarios where they had to (1) classify asthma severity, (2) calculate peak flow %s, and (3) design treatment plans. Having these clinical scenarios (and the space to write out their answers) incorporated into the handout I provided them was essential to both this measurement and the residents' concrete application of what I taught them.

In summary:

Goal = mega-aspirational, pie-in-the-sky ideal result of your presentation that fuels your passion for the topic.

Objective = precise, measurable criteria that both point learners to your most important teaching points and allow you to measure the success of your presentation.

Bloom's taxonomy provides a great starting point for choosing high-quality verbs for your objectives; "understand" and "review" are fine for goals but have no place in a well-written objective (being neither precise nor measurable). Use Bloom's to connect your objective to the appropriate step of the taxonomy (do you want them to remember? comprehend? apply?) as discussed in my earlier post about interactive presentations.

Now, get out there and write some kick ass goals and objectives!